DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
Fraser Island is one of the jewels in Australia’s crown and is justifiably on the World Heritage List. We have a need to get to Fraser every few years and the problem is: so does everyone else, it seems.
We’ve been visiting Fraser Island since the late 1970s and it’s almost miraculous to note that the essential wilderness value of the world’s largest sand island remains virtually unchanged.
The forested areas and the beachfronts have actually improved, because logging was stopped 12 years ago and the former beach-humpy ‘villages’ that sprang up in secluded areas – in particular at Waddy Point – have been replaced by highly-organised camping areas, with toilets and open-air showers. Free camping is still permitted just off the beachfront on the eastern shore, but access to these areas is rotated, to allow the bush to recover from human visitation.
In the beautiful, sensitive areas of Eli Creek and Wanggoolba Creek, boardwalks keep visitors off the vegetation and limit erosion.
Sure, the sand tracks that criss-cross the Island are wider than they used to be and there’s more traffic on them, but if you choose outside-peak times to visit you can have as uncrowded a visit as you could have had 30 years ago. If you’re forced to go during the peak times of mid-summer and during school holidays you’ll feel the pressure.
Many people visit Fraser Island for the fishing alone, which is a pity, because they miss out appreciating the Island’s spectacular beauty. Even if you’re fishing freaks it’s wise to allow time for bush driving or walking around the inland.
Fraser Island is alive: not only the vegetation, but the very sand itself. The Island is formed of sand that has travelled north from NSW over the last two million years and has been deposited on bedrock, hundreds of metres below the ocean surface. The only visible rocks on Fraser are the large volcanic-deposit headlands around Indian Head – Waddy Point and smaller outcrops along the eastern beaches.
The process of sand erosion by wind and water continues, as does the deposition of fresh sand from the south.
The magnificent stands of trees in Fraser Island’s inland regions would suggest good soil quality, but without parent rock dissolving and releasing fresh nutrients as happens on the mainland Fraser is dependent on blow-in nutrients in sea-spray and the decay of its own plants to maintain soil quality. That’s why there’s strict ban on using any native wood for camp fires.
Fraser Island is noted for its ‘perched lakes’. These bodies of water sit above sea level on lake bottoms that have been made leak-proof by layers of decayed vegetation. Fraser has the largest and highest perched lakes in the world.
In addition to perched lakes Fraser Island has many conventional lakes and some of these are being overtaken by sand ‘blows’ – most notably Lake Wabby.
The amount of fresh water trapped in Fraser Island’s 140,000-hectare sand mass makes it one of Australia’s largest fresh-water reservoirs. This water leaks out continuously, in creeks that vary in size from soaks on the beachfront to the four-million-litres-per-hour rush from Eli Creek.
The breezy, sandy eastern beachfront is in stark contrast to the Island’s verdant inland regions – in particular the deep valleys that are home to magnificent trees in vine forests. The stars of this array are the giant, grooved-barked Satinay trees, smooth-barked Kauri ‘pines’, tangled Strangler Figs and tall Piccabeen Palms. One of the Fraser Island ferns is a member of a genus that has remained genetically unchanged over the last 250 million years.
Crush a few leaves from the understorey Carrol plant and inhale the musty vapour as you wander through this cool, shady wonderland and you understand why people keep coming back to Fraser Island.
Fraser Island was populated by the Butchalla aboriginal tribe before white settlement began in the 1840s, followed by exploitation of the Island’s timber and a shameful period of aboriginal detention on the Island that ended in 1904. Deportation of the Butchallas then began and continued until the 1930s.
Fraser Island takes its current name from Eliza Fraser, the wife of James Fraser, captain of the ‘Stirling Castle’, a brig bound from Sydney to Singapore in 1836. The ship was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef and the crew took to the lifeboats, heading for Moreton Bay, 1000 nautical miles to the south. Eliza Fraser gave birth during the six-week voyage, but the baby survived only a few hours.
The boat grounded on what was then known as Great Sandy Island and the survivors were captured by the aborigines. Some perished, including Captain Fraser, but others escaped and organised a rescue party.
Early exploration of Fraser Island was a by-product of searches for shipwreck survivors and one wreck is a highlight of a Fraser Island visit today. The rusting remains of the ‘Maheno’ are visited by virtually everyone who goes to Fraser Island and it’s interesting to see the deterioration of the ship over the past 25 years – there won’t be much left of it in another 50.
Fraser Island was a source of mineral sands until the late 1970s and timber until 1991. World Heritage listing was granted in 1992.
The most interesting inland drives on Fraser Island are clearly signposted with colour-coded direction arrows at intersections.
The suggested drives are marked on Island maps and if you’re camping at Central Station or on the beach between Dilli Village and Cathedral Beach Resort you’re in the ideal place to start these drives.
Lake Garawongera Tourist Drive – this one-hour drive passes through tall forest that was extensively logged in the past. There are many stumps with wood cutters’ plank grooves cut in them. There are several rainforest patches on this drive, but near the beach the trees are smaller and the forest is quite open. The Lake is deep and pristine, flanked by reed beds and water-loving melaleucas.
Central Lakes Tourist Drive – this two-hour drive takes in Lake Wabby – the lake that’s gradually being invaded by a sand ‘blow’ and the favoured swimming lake, Lake McKenzie.
The start of the loop is difficult to spot on the beach, but is signposted Cornwells Rd. This track climbs up to the Lake Wabby lookout and then leads to Lake McKenzie.
The loop continues through the magnificent timber stands in Pile Valley to Central Station, where you can catch up on Fraser Island’s history at the visitors’ centre. The Wanggoolba Creek boardwalk is an essential short stroll, before you rejoin the track and head for the beach at Eurong.
Although the driving time for this trek is two hours, side visits to the lakes and time spent at Central Station can make it a great day out.
The Northern Forests Tourist Drive – this 36-kilometre trek takes in the beautiful rainforest sections around Yidney Scrub, Boomerang Lakes – the highest perched lakes in the world – and the Knifeblade sand blow. The northern exit from the track onto the beach is close to The Pinnacles coloured sands and the ‘Maheono’ wreck.
The southern approach to this trek is Happy Valley, from where you simply follow the blue circuit signs.
‘Yidney Scrub’ is a strange name for magnificent rainforest featuring gigantic Kauri, Satinay and Strangler Fig trees, separated by Piccabeen Palms.
The track passes through open woodland dominated by Banksias, then gum forest, before culminating in testing soft sand over the last few kilometres.
The Southern Lakes Tourist Drive – this green-signposted track leads towards Central Station from Eurong, then swings south and wanders around Lakes Jennings, Birrabeen, Benaroon and Boomanjin, before emerging onto the beach at Dilli Village.
The Beach Drive – northwards up Seventy-Five Mile Beach as far as you like – tides willing – but at least as far as Orchid Beach.
This trek is best done at low water, on the hard tidal sand. The greatest difficulties along the beach front are shallow creeks that often have hard, vertical sides. Smack one at speed and you’ll do tyre and suspension damage – or worse.
The tracks around Waddy Point used to be hazardous, but now there are two one-way tracks, so there’s no longer the risk of a head-on collision.
You’ll get the dingo lecture from the rangers, who mark your tent with a ‘dingo-aware-graduate’ ribbon after the talk. You’ll receive ample literature on dingo-awareness and what to do on Fraser when you pick up your visitor’s permit.
Beware the Tides of March
Many vehicles are drowned on Fraser Island – mainly through the carelessness of their owners. It’s absolutely essential that you read the tide chart that’s part of your permit pack and travel on the beach front at low water and in the two hours before and after slack water.
For some reason many 4WD drivers consider it’s more ‘macho’ to drive around rocky outcrops such as Yidney Rocks when the tide is coming in, rather than use the wooden-slatted bypass tracks that offer safe passage when the sea encroaches on the rocks. At best they risk corrosion from salt deposits and at worst they risk a vehicle stranding and subsequent write off.
Another trick is ripping through the shallows, spraying salt water everywhere. It may look good on TV ads for 4WDs, but the ad agencies don’t have to pay for the subsequent damage.
Hitting a shallow creek on the beachfront can ruin your day – and your vehicle. Roll-overs into the deeper creeks, such as Eli Creek, occur because drivers try to cross them at high tide.
The inland tracks have a speed limit of 35 km/h, which is ridiculously high for vehicle-width sand tracks that have hundreds of blind corners. The speed limit should be dropped to 20 km/h.
Permits and Camping
You need an access permit and camping permits for Fraser
Island – in advance. If you’re passing through Rainbow Beach there’s a ranger’s office there.
If you choose to run the gauntlet and arrive without a
permit and pre-paid camping charges it costs more when the rangers track you down – and they will.
It’s forbidden to forage for fire wood or to bring it, but
wood is available in very limited amounts at nominated points around the Island. We suggest you take some heat beads if you’re planning camp oven cooking.
For those who need more comfort than basic camping, or who want to finish their Fraser Island visit on a high note, Drop Bear Adventures’ new Beachcamp Eco Retreat was designed to provide all the essentials.
The Eco Retreat is nestled into the fore-dunes of Eurong Second Valley, a tiny village on Fraser Island’s famous 75-mile beach.
There are seven ‘glamping’ tents, two large open-plan kitchens and a lounge area – all only a stone’s throw from the beach.
Each permanent tent has an en-suite with separate shower, toilet and washbasin and both kitchens are fully equipped.
Drop Bear Adventures provides beach games, Jumbo Jenga, fishing rods, hammocks and beach lounges. There are camp fire pits and the area is fenced against inquisitive dingo intrusion.